When you are focused on training, it can be easy to dismiss aches and pains in the quest for success. However, there are some things you may try to ignore that actually could be signs of something a bit more serious going on in your body.
“Most athletes, runners included, are a resilient group; we enjoy reaching our goals and striving to achieve them,” admits Dr. Richard Kim of Kinetic Sports Medicine, a physician with the United States Rugby teams and medical director for the Saratoga Palio Half-Marathon and 5K. “However, at times these goals need guidance, coaching and a common sense approach. If you find that reaching what seems like a reasonable goal becomes difficult or impossible, this may point toward some barrier, physical or otherwise.”
While some issues may be the result of a mental roadblock, others may require professional intervention and medical guidance. So what should you look for? We talked to two specialists to discuss some common issues that may actually be a red flag for runners.
THREE RED FLAGS FOR RUNNERS
As you develop as a runner and athlete, you may experience some things that may seem like no big deal; and often, they aren’t. For example, a black or bruised toe nail can be alarming, but is often just a sign of shoes that are too tight, not an underlying issue with your feet. Sometimes, however, you may be dismissing an issue that needs to be addressed. Here are three things runners should be aware of:
LOSING YOUR PERIOD
Though it can be inconvenient (uncomfortable, painful and more), menstruating regularly is healthy. If your period is irregular one month you may not need to worry, but if you aren’t having a period at all, you want to consult your doctor. The condition amenorrhea involves missing your cycle three months in a row (without experiencing pregnancy).
“Amenorrhea, as with most situations that plague runners, is a fuel issue that leads to a series of complex hormonal actions that exert a bit of a domino effect,” explains Dr. William J. Previte, an orthopaedic surgeon with S.P.O.R.T. Institute Medical Group in San Diego, California. “The basic problem is a deficiency of ‘fuel in’ as contrasted to energy expended … In essence the deficiency between available fuel and energy expended triggers hormonal effects such as lowering of one’s estradiol leading to lack of normal menstrual cycling.”
Dr. Kim adds that amenorrhea may be a result of changes in nutrition, vitamin levels and more, and its cause should be determined by a physician, obstetrician or sports medicine specialist. This topic was thrust into the spotlight when professional runner Tina Muir shared her own diagnosis of amenorrhea — she went 9 years without a period — and her decision to stop running for her health. Now a mother, she was one of the first runners to openly discuss amenorrhea and her story is a great example of how running can play a part in irregular periods (even though it may not be the sole cause).
As you train and develop your muscles, of course you will experience discomfort. This is especially true after a tough speed workout or an extremely hilly long run. If you are regularly experiencing what is known as restless leg syndrome (RLS) and have the uncomfortable urge to constantly move your legs, it could be more than the aftereffect of a hard run.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, roughly 7–10% of the population has RLS. Though it can be hard to find a cause, it is true that it can be due to a deficiency of nutrients — notably iron — though this is just one thing on a long list. However, long distance runners experiencing feelings of restless legs may want to visit a doctor to get their nutrient levels checked.
“Concerning signs that may develop [from long runs] could include crazy legs at night, which is usually a result of depletion of calcium and sodium (associated with muscle relaxation),” notes Dr. Previte. “Ensuring replacement of these elements helps to avoid this problem.”
A lot of runner’s feel the need to hit the bathroom either right before or even during a run (those port-a-potty lines at the start of every race are long for a reason). Your diet obviously plays a part, but so can running.
“Long runs divert blood to muscle rather than the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and this alters our body’s ability to reabsorb fluids,” explains Dr. Previte. “This, coupled with perspiring, leads to dehydration, which can contribute to cramping during and after runs.”
This increased “peristalsis” — where your GI muscles consistently contract and relax — can result in what has become known as runner’s trots. Dr. Previte explains that consciously planning your pre- and post-run meals can help you avoid this issue.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Though this list is not all-encompassing, it is a reminder of the importance of being aware of your body during training. This is why keeping a log to document how you’re feeling after each run and any health issues you may be experiencing is helpful.
“Feeling ‘off’ after a workout happens to everyone; if it happens occasionally, there is likely a good reason for it, such as not enough hydration or not enough recovery between workouts,” concludes Dr. Kim. “However, when things happen consistently or persistently, this may indicate a problem. If your symptom lasts longer than several hours, it may indicate that a systemic issue exists.”